The CN29 offers up a huge slate of features, and in 2019 was one of Kawai’s most popular digital pianos. It represents an interesting confluence of technology and value within their overall line-up. It’s the lowest price point where you get the RHIII action (triple sensor, escapement / let-off), the Onkyo architecture for its main amplifiers as well as the headphone amplifiers, the Grand Feel pedal system, and the SK-EX individual-key sample set. Go one step down into the KDP series and you lose all of those features…go one step up, and and all of the feature add-ons are in non-pianistic areas (number of sounds for example).
For a $2000 digital piano, it genuinely sets a new standard for tonal clarity and sound technology, with other high-end editing functions as well like stretch tuning, reverb, spatial headphone sound control, onboard lesson function, and an excellent set of Onkyo full-range speakers.
We hope you enjoy this video + article from Stu Harrison of Merriam pianos on Kawai’s CN29 Digital piano.
Kawai CN29 Digital Piano Review Video Transcription
Hi everybody, and welcome to another digital piano review here at Merriam Pianos. My name is Stu Harrison, and in this video we’re talking about Kawai’s brand new CN29 Digital Piano. We’re going to be covering it’s action, it’s sound, and all of the other critical features that you get with this instrument. It’s connectivity, who the perfect customer for this might be, and of course, if it’s your first time to the channel, please do subscribe. We really appreciate the support. Also, be sure to check out the videos of the CN29 where all we do is play the instrument so you can take the sound in rather than listening to me talk away. Thanks so much for joining us. Let’s get started right away.
Sound and Tone – Comparing the CN27 and CN29
So, let’s talk about the sound on the Kawai CN29. Of course, I can’t play the CN29 without referencing the CN27 because of course, it’s sitting right next to us. But also, we’ve been living with the CN27 for about three years. We’re very used to it. And I would say the CN27 represented one of the absolute best values in the entire Kawai lineup when it came to sound production. And so with the CN29, I had very high expectations. I’ve been in here playing it for a couple of hours this morning, just ahead of doing the review to get a fresh perspective, getting really familiar with the instrument but also also having the advantage of being able to play it side by side with the CN27. And I have to say that there are some differences that I did not figure would be there.
I knew that we were coming in with the new a control interface and display with the pixel oled for better contrast. I knew that we were coming in with a very slight update to the cabinet with a new topboard, and a refresh to their popular premium rosewood finish. And an improvement to their virtual technician functionality with some half-pedal adjustments, damper resonance, minimum touch settings, hammer delay, and a few other interesting features that I thought I’d enjoy.
But I wasn’t expecting as big difference with the quality of the tone itself. And here’s what I’m hearing. When I turn the CN29 all the way up to the top and I’m in their main piano sound, (which is an SK-EX Acoustic Grand Piano , which they’ve sampled individual note samples by the way, really exquisitely done), the Onkyo onboard processing, which the CN29 has and the 27 didn’t, is providing such a beautiful clarity and control to the wave structure that there’s no woofiness in the base. In fact there’s no distortion whatsoever in the base. The speakers are Onkyo speakers, and so I’m hearing much tighter sound reproduction out of those speakers. And so, I guess the best way to sum up on the piano sound, what I’m hearing out of the CN29 is very tight, clear, punchy sound, which never really distorts in any way no matter what volume you’re playing at it. And to be able to say at an instrument that’s kind of in the $2,000, $3,000 price range, like the CN29, it’s remarkable. There aren’t very many instruments on the market that can do that. And that just makes it more satisfying because you wind up not thinking about having to keep the volume pulled down.
Anyone who’s played a digital pianos a lot, you know, through their lifetime and certainly over the last five years knows that it’s kind of an unspoken rule that you never really turn the volume all the way up because the minute that you do, if you really push the keyboard, the speakers start breaking up and the speakers start distorting. And I can say absolutely with confidence right here, you push the CN29 all the way up to max volume, play at a fortissimo level, and it’s going to sound just as clear as if you had headphones on. Absolutely remarkable.
Now, as you get into the mid-range and into the top end, what I hear is a more realistic stereo field or a stereo image that you’re getting between the left and the right side as you’re mixing your left and right hands on the CN27 and really a lot of other digital pianos, you kind of get this hamfisted very overly simplistic, stereo image, which means like as you go down the left side, literally your ear can kind of track the sound, like just moving down to the left and moving off to the right. And you know that when you’re in front of an acoustic piano, it’s much more subtle than that. Because you still have sound reproduction coming from the entire soundboard using Kawai’s Progressive Harmonic Imaging technology. It’s not just this one little pinpoint. So, I feel like that’s something that they’ve really nailed on the CN29 this time. And I probably need to credit as again, as we’re talking about this Onkyo circuitry and the Onkyo stereo system. I’ve mentioned the piano sound and of course, that’s the Shigeru Kawai SK-EX individual sampled notes
It’s truly a very warm, very complex tone that they’ve loaded in there. Running through the various patches here, they’ve got the SK concert grand, which of course is more colourful. It’s definitely got a wider tonal palette than anything they’ve ever really loaded into an instrument before. And it’s just great to hear it presented so beautifully through the speaker system and through the processing. Also on here, they’ve got the EX Concert Grand Piano, which an earlier version of their concert grand, it’s a bit brighter, almost kind of reminds me of like a Yamaha CFX in terms of still being a very beautiful grand piano sound, but just a little bias towards the treble and a nice bright attack. And so, we’ve got that right here.
Aside from the fundamental tone production, the Progressive Harmonic Imagining adds quite a few other nuances that add to the realism of the piano experience. The Key Off simulation, Fall-back noise, the half-pedal adjust function, adjustable soft pedal depth, adjustable temperament key
Again, just to hear the contrast. So, that’s the SK Concert Grand and EX Concert Grand Piano. So, quite a difference. So, it’s nice that you’ve got both to choose from when we’re talking about the CN29. Then… That is an upright piano patch. Quite impressed with that as well. And then one they call studio grand. Kind of a seventh quarter sound. Compressed and more treblely. Mellow grand. So, a really wide variety of acoustic piano sounds. And I would say that they’re all really high quality. But of course, the SK Concert Grand is the one that’s got the individual note sampling and you can tell that it’s the beefiest, it’s got the most audio information when you’re playing it.
The CN29 also has a fairly basic collection of quite usable electric piano sounds, sort of a Rhodes. And I believe this is the same electric piano samples as you’d find on the ES8 for people who are familiar with that model. And a pretty decent B3, and if I’m not mistaken, yeah, your una corda, your left pedal actually activates the Leslie speaker.
Church organ is…I normally wouldn’t even discuss the church organ sound because it’s not something that I think has a ton of application in the modern world, but there are still quite a few users out there who look for digital pianos within a worship setting or also just enjoy the sound of a church organ. So, this is worth mentioning because we review all kinds of digital pianos on this channel. We review all the Kawai’s and the Roland’s and the Casio’s and when we have them, you know, from trader, whatever, we’ll review Yamahas. And church organ sounds in this price range usually quite frankly, are abysmally terrible, especially the ones that have sort of the full range kind of pipe organ stuff. So, you’ve got eight foots and four foots and two foots and mixtures turned on and they always sound really distorted and fake. And I don’t know why it’s that difficult, but Kawai actually manages to get a pretty satisfying pipe organ sound. So, thanks Kawai for that. And of course, harpsichord, vibraphone, strings, low strings, all your kind of your normal digital piano sounds that you’d expect to be there are there. So, it’s a nice collection. There are 19 voices and max 192 polyphony that you’ve got the option to use.
So, we’ve got the usual slate of instruments that allows you to use this as a piano, as an electric piano, as an organ or just as some basic pad to kind of thicken it up. And of course you’ve got the playing modes like a duel, which layers two sounds on top of one another, or forehands, which is really handy. That’s where essentially you can break the keyboard into two halves, but have both halves have the same range. This is something that sometimes teachers really appreciate. So, you can teach on one instrument sort of having two instruments side by side.
So, a few other things about the sound on the CN29. One of the coolest parts of this if you’re a piano player is the Virtual Technician functionality that they have built into this. And on the 29, there’s 17 different parameters that you have the ability to go in and edit. So, we’re talking about things like the touch, the damper noise, the tuning, you can have, you know, how high the lid goes, you can talk about string resonance, you can talk about the case resonance, all sorts of things. And of course, the best way to make use of this is by connecting it to an iPad or an iPhone where the Kawai Virtual Technician app will allow you to manipulate Virtual Technician completely. It is so cool and actually a lot of fun because you essentially get to build your own personal piano. It saves to it, and you never really have to edit it again. It just gives you one extra way in which to personalize the overall experience.
With all of that Onkyo circuitry we’re talking about comes a few extra little gizmos that for people who use headphones, they’re really going to appreciate this. So, you get to select the type of headphone that you’re using. So, if you’ve got sort of an open back headphone versus a closed or versus an earbud, it actually changes the processing of the sound to optimize that for the type of headphone you wear. That is really cool. And then on top of that, it’s also got sort of like this atmospheric spatial processing going on so you can affect the sense of space that you have with the headphone. The bottom line is this, when you plug headphones into CN29, you really start using all the features that you have at your disposal. There is not much on the market that is going to beat the level of authenticity when it comes to an acoustic piano experience playing on this instrument without getting into like a $10,000 spend. Pretty incredible value.
So, let’s move on to action. But before we do, we’re going to throw up all the specs on the slide so you can check them out in writing. So, thank you so much for sticking around. Action’s up next.
The Kawai CN29 comes equipped with the Responsive Hammer III keyboard action. This is an update to the graded counterweight action design that Kawai has been perfecting for many, many years. But they’ve kind of reached a new pinnacle with this action, and that’s something that’s validated in the wider industry because just last year Nord selected the action for their new Nord Grand model.
So, what about it makes this so great? Well, the first thing is that it does have escapement; that’s something that’s becoming fairly commonplace in a lot of the better actions that you can get out there. It creates a realistic movement on the key, and for many players that have an acoustic piano background, improves the authenticity of the piano playing experience. That’s, of course, that little extra little kind of nub about two thirds of the way down where on a real piano that would be the jack slipping off the knuckle. And of course, it’s simulating it here just to increase the authenticity. Because why not? It’s also got a triple sensor. And so, this is the kind of a feature that becomes really obvious for people who are using it’s Bluetooth MIDI output capability because you can actually see in the data how accurate and how smooth all of of the data figures are as you’re recording into a sequencer or something like that. It’s so smooth.I find the other thing that it allows you to do to have that accurate sensor, is you don’t really have to turn the volume up quite as much because you’ve got a wider range of dynamics to play with just at the control of your fingertips instead of really having to sort of set a narrow dynamic range with the volume slider and then you’re just kind of playing within it. It’s pretty satisfying actually.
It’s a nice keyboard. I’m going to mention the top of the key surface because Roland is putting on this ivory texture as well, Kawai calls it their Ivory Touch key surfaces . It’s kind of this micro-texture. You can see it when it glints in the light. And that’s there of course to provide a little bit of friction. It’s also there to absorb a bit of extra moisture. When this first came out of the box, I found it actually to be a little bit slippery. But having played it now just for even a few hours, it’s now feeling the way it’s supposed to feel. There’s some nice grip, but it’s definitely not sticky in any way.
And the action feels tight. So, not feeling a lot of lateral motion at all, I’m not hearing any clicks whatsoever. There’s no mechanical sounds that you’re getting. It’s a very, very satisfying action. So again, this is the Responsive Hammer III keyboard action that’s in the CN29 digital piano. Such a nice key touch to play on. So, we’re going to throw up the specs for you on the screen right now before we move on to features. Thanks again for sticking with us.
Other CN29 Features and Connectivity
So, when we get into the features of this instrument, I guess one of the reasons I consider it to be very high value is because almost all of your dollars are going towards audio processing and the quality of the amps, the speaker system, and kind of the core sound system. But it’s a little lightweight when it comes to the rest of the features. And that’s either a good thing for somebody because they don’t want to pay for all of that and they want most of their money going toward just the guts. Or, it may be the kind of thing where somebody looks at the Kawai CN29 and goes, “It doesn’t do enough things for me. I need a higher entertainment value.” Or the application that I’m thinking of just requires us to have more stuff. And that, of course, is when you can maybe get into Kawai CN39 or an instrument such as the Roland DP603, which is also kind of in and around the same kind of price range that just ups the number of features that are available to you.
But what is on here, we already made mention of this. You’ve got forehand mode, you’ve got dual mode, which basically blends the keys. It’s loaded with Kawai’s company-wide feature called “Concert Magic”, their propriety rhythm learning module. Of course, you’ve got the basics like transposition. You’ve got metronome, which is also, you know, kind of critical, especially for practicing aid. You’ve got some internal memory to record some basic songs. It also has the transpose function, four hands mode, layer mode, and the ability to store a unique startup setting. I know people who use this as a practice aid as well just to hear yourself and kind of be brutally honest with what’s going on or what’s not going on. And then you’ve got Bluetooth MIDI in and out. You’ve got standard MIDI in and out through the USB cable and it accommodates both the quarter-inch jack and 3.5 mil jack for your headphones. Does not have a discreet audio out. So, what we’re doing today is you’re hearing a direct line out of the headphone jack and then that’s running into an audio recorder and we’re just running an auxiliary cable out of the recorder into an amplifier so that I can also hear it in the room. But otherwise, you don’t have the ability to take a discreet audio line out.
In terms of the case, the Kawai CN29 comes with a bench, which is very handy, right in the box. So if you’re getting this from a dealer, really is an all in one package. It’s got an adjustable height music rest, which is also great. And Kawai comes…offers this in three different finishes. So, you can get this in a satin black (CN29B), satin white (CN29W), you can get it in Rosewood (CN29R), which is what you’re seeing right here. I really like the Rosewood because it’s kind of a chameleon color. It’s dark enough that if it is in a room full of blacks, it blends very well, but there’s still some warmth to the finish. And it also comes in mahogany, which is a lighter wood tone. It’s a small thing, but that desk or that sort of…the key cover on this slides out really satisfyingly smooth. Sometimes you have to fight with these things or they kind of rattle their way out. Whatever they’ve done on that, it’s a really, really nice smooth in and out.
It’s also equipped of course with a triple pedal board, which includes the damper pedal, sostenuto pedal, and soft pedal (una corda). As mentioned earlier, this uses Kawai’s Grand Feel Pedal System, which uses different spring tensions to properly simulate the individual weighting of the pedals just like on a real acoustic grand piano.
And not to be left out of the move towards better power consumption, it also has the Bluetooth Low Energy Midi Specification (BLE MIDI) which saves power on the connecting device.
Very last thing I’m going to draw your attention to on the CN29 is the control surface. For people who are familiar with earlier generations of the Kawai keyboards and the CN series or the KTP series, you’ll know that although it’s very functional, it hasn’t always been the prettiest control surface that they’ve put off to the side. The CN29 has a brand new, completely redesigned OLED control surface and we’ll make sure that we get a quick B-roll shot of it so you can see it. There is now a nice OLED display screen so you can see exactly where you’re navigating and what the function is that you’re on, really reduces the amount of memorizing you have to do of the shortcut keys. And they’ve restyled the keys and restyled sort of the icons underneath it. It’s a small thing, but it just kind of makes me feel like I’m truly in front of an instrument fit for, you know, 2020 instead of something that feels more like 2010. So, we’re going to just wrap up features and conductivity, through a slide up and then we’ll summarize.
There’s also an excellent selection of pre-loaded educational book repertoire in the CN29, including selections from:
- Burgmüller 25 (25 Etudes Faciles, Opus 100)
- Czerny 30 (Etudes de Mécanisme, Opus 849)
- Beyer 106 (Vorschule im Klavierspiel, Opus 101)
- Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Lesson Book Level 1A
- Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Lesson Book Level 1B
- Chopin Waltzes (1-19) lesson book
So, just to wrap up the review on this Kawai CN29 digital piano, I really, really liked the instrument. I mean, that’s the bottom line. I think for people who are in the market for their first serious piano and they’re looking at either digitals or maybe even a sort of browsing Craigslist and Kijiji for used acoustics in the $500 to $1,000 or $2,000 range. The CN29 presents a pretty strong argument for this to be the first instrument in the house. I would rather have this than a 50-year-old acoustic piano with uneven keys, temperamental tuning, and something that you’re having to keep in, you know, a particular humidity range, something where you’re really never going to have exactly the same sort of key technique on all 88 notes. And so, that can be really frustrating for somebody who’s younger and doesn’t really know how to accommodate a temperamental acoustic yet. This provides a totally consistent touch. The touch is completely inline with a basic acoustic piano. And now with the Onkyo processing onboard, you are getting an incredibly tight, clear, full-range, very colorful sound, even at max volume. Whereas that was just not the case on the CN27. You had to back off the volume a little bit. And now in comparison, the base actually sounds a bit whoofy. This sounds just so controlled. So, great tone, really great processing. We mentioned about the headphone processing. That’s a cool feature as well. You’ve got the convenience of the Bluetooth, but bottom line, if you’re somebody who is willing and ready to sort of look at the $2,000 price range and you’re considering all of your options, if your main use is going to be playing piano, get to see a CN29. It is going to impress you just as much as it’s impressed me.
Thank you very much for watching. It’s been another review here for Merriam Pianos. Check out the CN29 in a showroom anywhere close to you. Of course, if you’re in the Toronto area, come see us. We’d love to meet you. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you back in another review soon.